Paid v. Free (Forum Software)
There has always been the forum software debate on almost every admin and webmaster forum you can think of. There are the free forum software users saying free software is just as good as paid software. There are the paid forum software users saying paid software is better than any free software online. The only way anyone is really going to understand which is better and why is to actually use software and decide on what software you want to use. I use a lot of free forum software on my forum projects and Simple Machines Forum software is the main one I use. I have used MyBB, PhpBB, Wedge and others as well. I wrote this article to give you all a picture on my experience of using free and paid software and which one is better.
The Short Answer
Free is not better than paid and paid is not better than free!
The Long Answer
I have 5 paid forum software licenses. I have 2 vBulletin 3.8 forum licenses and 1 vBulletin 4 license. I have a XenForo license and an IP.Board license that are up to date and active. I have used all of these paid forum software platforms for communities that I have ran over the years. I enjoyed vBulletin out of all of them because of the features it had to offer. I needed certain features to do certain things and vBulletin offered me that solution against the other paid options. Now, when I used paid software as a whole, back then, I wanted more features that no one would ever use. I wanted custom FAQs which I could add stuff too but no one really ever read them. I wanted notices I could over boards but people read sticky topics before reading a notice. I wanted to be able to edit every file on the forum for full customization even though it eventually became overwhelming. Basically, all these extra features that I desired meant I would have way more to do than just be active on my community.
This is about the time I looked into SMF and other free options. I found that most of the free forum software out there does the exact same thing (in general features) as the paid forum software and I decided to mainly stick with free software as my first option. I decided that I didn't need all those features and that modifications and custom development would all I need to get a few extras on my communities. I also am prone to open a new forum every week or so and spending all that money of paid software could have been better to go for advertising or contest prizes to get members active. It's not the software that makes a community; it's the content and the members that make it active.
However, I still use vBulletin and XenForo! I use my vb4 license to run an admin forum for specific paid software that I use. I felt it was more appropriate to use paid forum software for discussing the use of paid software amongst other members who also use that specific paid software. I use my XenForo license for my upcoming design/styles website. I wanted to watch XenForo grow and decided to use the license for that support forum since I will be releasing styles and designs for various software and other software on the internet.
To sum this all up, free is not better than paid and paid is not better than free! It's what software works best for your needs that matter. If free software does what you need, use it and save your money for something important. If paid software does what you need, then purchase it and use it instead. There is no reason for this debate to continue. DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t join a software clique - Be real instead and use what you think is the best for your community! It is THAT SIMPLE!